A Lesson in Economics

A Lesson in Economics September 20, 2023


a child doing her homework
image via Pixabay

Things went from bad to worse.

Twitter,  now called “X,”  is collapsing like a souffle in a noisy room. All I see lately is content creators dismayed that they don’t get any of the clicks and engagement they used to. I am the same. I get paid by the click and by people who like my writing and feed my tip jar, so social media engagement is my whole living. I’ll remain on X until it goes under once and for all, but I opened an account on bluesky, where I have 25 followers instead of Twitter’s thousands. I’m trying to get on Threads, which is proving tricky because I deleted Instagram or tried to the last time my aunt harassed me and now I don’t remember how to log in. I’m trying to get over the sickness and insomnia so I can go back to looking for part time work while Adrienne is in school, but insomnia is a condition that only gets worse if you pressure yourself to hurry up. I’m tired all the time, something I should be used to.

I was homebound with phantom pains and crippling fatigue that had been misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia from the time I dropped out of graduate school until I was thirty-six. At thirty-six I was correctly diagnosed with inflammatory poly-cystic ovary syndrome, got treatment, and started to get over the fatigue. I’ve been pretty healthy for a few years. At almost thirty-nine,  the way I’ve discovered to support my family is changing faster than I can keep up and I’m exhausted all day again at just the wrong time. This is a difficult situation to navigate. It will pass. Difficult situations always do.

I’m not the only one who’s had difficulty. Yesterday, Jimmy the lawn mower came to the door with his worried look. He doesn’t look worried very often. He is the most cheerful person on the block. When he’s worried, I worry.

Jimmy asked if he could have twenty dollars to change his cousin’s oil. As we all know by now, Jimmy is a wonderworker of a mechanic who charges far less than a real shop to fix everyone’s vehicles here in the neighborhood. But he also helps people for free in emergencies, and his cousin had an emergency. He needed to get all the way to Nebraska to care for another relative who was going through chemotherapy, and he hadn’t had an oil change in forever. That meant Jimmy was going to do it for free, but he was so broke he couldn’t go buy a bottle of oil. I didn’t have a penny to give him, but I promised I would help as soon as I could. He’s done thousands of dollars of work raising Serendipity and only charged me two hundred plus the cost of parts. If I won the lottery, I’d buy him a house before I bought one for myself.

When Adrienne got home from school, she also had her worried look. There’d been a substitute social studies teacher the past few days, who gave them an entirely wrong assignment. Now the real social studies teacher was back, and he handed out economics tests that nobody knew how to answer. He let them take the test as a take-home exam, open book and open note, except that the textbooks for that class are the property of the school and never come home– the students read them aloud to each other during class time and then shelve them again. And Adrienne is dysgraphic and doesn’t take notes, even if the sub had tried to teach them the right thing. That was the explanation I got from her, and I’m still trying to figure out what I was supposed to do.

I was an English major. I’m good at one thing and that’s writing. I don’t know anything about economics.

We pored over the questions as if they were hieroglyphs inscribed on a mummy’s tomb. We googled things. I learned terminology like “market economy,” “command economy” and “traditional economy.” I started explaining the different ways people exchange goods and services and the advantages and disadvantages to each, according to Investopedia. I hope the answers we came up with are similar enough to the ones in the book.

Somewhere in all of this, the mail came. I got my monthly paycheck from Patheos, a whopping seventy-two dollars. This wasn’t enough to cover the rent which is late, or the water bill which is due soon. It would buy us dinner and little else.

But it might help Jimmy change his cousin’s oil.

I drove Serendipity to the bank and the grocery store; I came back with Adrienne’s favorite pad Thai noodle kit, a package of chicken, and thirty dollars cash.

“This is for your father!” I said to Jimmy’s boy, who was outside twirling around on the tire swing. “Can you bring it to him?”

At that moment, Jimmy himself appeared. I handed off the cash. “There’s a little extra because I want you to look at my car. The skid warning light keeps coming on even though I’m not skidding, and the other day it was driving two miles an hour as if the throttle body isn’t working again, but when I turned the car off and on again it worked properly. Is that the sparkplugs?”

Jimmy launched into one of his detailed encyclopedic explanations of every single thing that could possibly be, from the sparkplugs to a loose wire to I don’t know what else. The price of a spark plug, he informed me, had gone up from a buck fifty to almost five dollars what with all the inflation this year. He said he’d be over to check the car later this week.

“You’re a real lifesaver, Jimmy!” I said.

“Nah, yinz guys are. Thank you so much!” said Jimmy, taking the money inside.

His boy followed me back to my yard and demanded to check on the garden, which hadn’t changed much in twenty-four hours. The boy picked the last bush beans, which were too dry and tough to eat, and he dug the seeds out of the pods for me while we chatted about gardening and what we were going to grow next year.

As he went home for bed, I gave the boy a few of my last ripe tomatoes for all his hard garden work. He walked home with two red ones and an orange-streaked yellow heirloom, sweet as dessert.

I couldn’t pass a sixth grade social studies test, but I think I do know something about economics.

Economics is how people keep each other alive by passing resources around– whether it’s cash, tomatoes or car repair skills.

Folks around here will never be rich, but we are pretty good at economics, on a small Appalachian scale.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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